The Frozen Lake, Madison, WI

Temps turned south recently, way south... and when that happens, the lakes can't help but freeze over. It was a cool way to see more of the lake front near my place of residence.

Late afternoon sun brings loooong shadows from anything in it's path

What's normally waves of water is now waves of fallen snow

The water kicks up along shore until it freezes, and freezes everything in it's grasp too
I tried to keep it quiet so I didn't wake up Mother Nature again


The Story of Sriracha (from the Los Angeles Times)

By Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times
Apr 13, 2013 5:05 a.m.

The gig: David Tran, 68, founded hot sauce company Huy Fong Foods Inc. in Chinatown in 1980 and a few years later introduced Sriracha sauce to the U.S.
His Sriracha, a version of a hot sauce originating in Si Racha, Thailand, quickly spread through the San Gabriel Valley and eventually the nation. The fiery red concoction in the clear bottle with the distinctive green cap and rooster logo has since gone mainstream: Google "Sriracha" and you'll find such things as cookbooks, water bottles, iPhone cases and T-shirts.
Huy Fong Foods, which is still privately owned, sold more than $60 million worth of sauce last year, office manager Donna Lam said.
Refugee: When North Vietnam's communists took power in South Vietnam, Tran, a major in the South Vietnamese army, fled with his family to the U.S. After settling in Los Angeles, Tran couldn't find a job — or a hot sauce to his liking.
So he made his own by hand in a bucket, bottled it and drove it to customers in a van. He named his company Huy Fong Foods after the Taiwanese freighter that carried him out of Vietnam.
Packing heat: Early on, one of Tran's packaging suppliers told him, "Your product is too spicy. How can you sell it?" Add a tomato base, some friends counseled. Sweeten the flavor to pair it better with chicken, others said. But Tran stood firm.
"Hot sauce must be hot. If you don't like it hot, use less," he said. "We don't make mayonnaise here."
Pricing it right: Tran had just one guiding business principle: "Make a rich man's sauce at a poor man's price." In more than two decades of operation, Tran has kept the wholesale price of his sauce constant, but he would not disclose it. A 28-ounce bottle goes for about $4, depending on the retailer.
"My American dream was never to become a billionaire," Tran said. "We started this because we like fresh, spicy chili sauce."
That means cranking up the chili content of each bottle and making sure each pepper is as hot as possible, Tran said. As the company grew, Huy Fong Foods developed a relationship with a supplier in Ventura County and carefully monitored the entire growing process from seed to harvest.
Now, each chili is processed within a day of harvesting to ensure peak spiciness.
Production strained: In 2007, the company oversold its sauces and ran out of the peppers with three months left in the year. Stores marked up their prices and many started to hoard the sauce, Lam said.
Under immense pressure from customers, Tran considered his possibilities. He could buy supermarket jalapenos, but that left no way to predict the heat of the sauce. Brined peppers were also out of the question — who knew how those had been grown?
So, Huy Fong Foods went to each of its customers and asked them to wait — and they did. "We didn't lose any customers," Lam said.
Now the company sets a monthly production quota for each sauce. Every bottle of sauce produced already has been sold, Lam said.
Competition: The popularity of Huy Fong Foods' Sriracha sauce has spurred many copycats and competitors. Because the sauce is named for the Thai city, the company cannot trademark the name.
Roland Foods in New York makes its own variety, Sriracha Chili Sauce, in a similarly shaped yellow-capped bottle featuring two dragons instead of a rooster. Frito-Lay is testing a Sriracha-flavored potato chip, and Subway is experimenting with a creamy Sriracha sauce for sandwiches.
But Tran said he's not bothered by the fact that others are trying to capitalize on the market his sauce created.
"We just do our own thing and try to keep the price low," Tran said.
Revenue grows about 20% a year even with all the competition. Huy Fong Foods has never spent a dollar on advertising.
Family business: Tran has no interest in branching out beyond making Sriracha and two other hot sauces, Chili Garlic and Sambal Oelek. All the Sriracha-branded products online are made by others. He spends hours Googling "Sriracha" and chuckling over fans' creations.
He's turned down multiple lucrative offers to sell his company, fearing his vision would be compromised.
"This company, she is like a loved one to me, like family. Why would I share my loved one with someone else?" Tran said.
He intends to keep it a family business: His son is the president, and his daughter is vice president.
He has repeatedly rejected pleas to sell stock in the company and turned down financiers who offer him money to increase production significantly.
"If our product is still welcomed by the customer, then we will keep growing," Tran said.
New quarters: Huy Fong Foods has operated out of two buildings in Rosemead since the late 1980s, but it's moving to a $40-million, 655,000-square-foot factory and headquarters in Irwindale that could triple its production capacity. The company expects to complete the transition by June.
"Who knows where the company will go? We just always try to make the best sauce possible," Tran said.
Getting personal: Tran and his wife, Ada, live in Arcadia. They have two children.


Alchemy, Madison, WI

I'd heard from co-workers early on in my time that Alchemy had one of the best burgers in the area. Being something of a burger fan and aficionado, I've wanted to try this place for some time now. That time came this past weekend when I decided to throw caution to the wind, jump on the bike for a 1.5m ride, and head on in for a helping of beef.

The scene was bustling as I walked in. It's a multi-level kind of layout, with the bar in the upper left corner. I made my way over and wound up having to stand for just a little bit as some of the people seated at the bar got seated in in the dining room. I ordered a fall pumpkin brew and took it all in. Once seated, I spent some time with the menu below, but mostly just to make sure which burger I wanted to order - "the AppleRum Burger, Deluxe, please."

It was also nice to know they have a varied menu and could satisfy most palettes and dietary needs. I happened to sit right by the kitchen at the end of the bar and watched much of the food come out for other diners. All of it looked good, with the Flank steak being really popular and inexpensive (to my mind).  

It being a Saturday night with a concert happening at a venue nearby, this place was hopping. The kitchen had plates stacked out the door and onto the bar counter. I was pretty impressed, surprised, and entertained by the circus of it all. Kitchen staff, Wait staff, and the bartenders - everyone was all hands on deck. 

It must have taken a good 30-45 minutes for my order to arrive. Frankly, I was fine with it. The bartenders took kindly on this sad sack and chatted with me on and off. Once the burger arrived, for those that know me, it didn't spend too much time on the plate. It was delicious from the first bite, with solid, steak-cut fries alongside. 

(Funny, tasty Cheddar cheese clearly melted in first pic, not melted in second pic)

After the first course, I decided to order one of their fancier cocktails (blamed partly on the 8.6% ABV in the first beer I had) and decided to try their Alchemy Old Fashioned. Well, it's not a normal whiskey-cherry-orange type Old Fashioned, and I didn't really like it. To be clear, its taste matched the description of ingredients, it just wasn't what I was looking to drink. I mentioned this to the bartender and she happily traded it out for another pumpkin beer on their seasonal tap. Thanks, Ma'am.

Due in part to my drink ordering gaff and the fact that it was nice to be in the middle of a bustling place on a Saturday night, I decided to order one of their dessert offerings, sourced from local Honey Bee Bakery. It was touted as a fancy butternut squash cheesecake with marshmallow frosting. I have to say, it was just ok. No flavors really stood out or wowed me. And as a fan of marshmallow, the limp pool of something white on top was nowhere near what I was expecting or hoped for - I thought it was a meringue, not marshmallow. It's ok, I'm still glad I tried it. I think if I'd seen it first, I would have chosen differently, so bad on me for not asking more about it. 

Having said all that, I'd absolutely go back. The service was excellent, the food was solid, and the atmosphere was perfect for an autumn Saturday night in Wisconsin. I also realized afterwards that the drinks made me mistakenly undertip, so I really need to make amends for that too (Sorry, Kat!).


Quote of the Day

These are lyrics this time, from London Grammar. I thought them appropriate as the days grow short and the nights grow long...

My only friend keep on Wander or leave, Turn into winter lights Keeping your strength When it gets dark at night


Behind the Cheddar Curtain, Woodman's Food Market, Madison, WI

Did you know the state line between Illinois & Wisconsin is affectionately referred to as the Cheddar Curtain? I knew it was the case when I moved here, but only recently caught a really good glimpse into the fromaginations* of the residents here.

Below are pics from a local grocer's cheese selections. The grocer is Woodman's and even though they have locations in other cities and states, I don't think any other location, even in WI, can rival this locations cheese breadth or depth. It's insane. I loved it all. 

This bad boy alerts you to the fact that you're not in Kansas anymore... you're in Wisconsin!

Dive in!!!

Sort of the fancy case

Any size you desire - 1/4lb, 1/2lb, 1lb. 2lb, rolls, blocks, squares, etc. (that's not a mirror halfway down, it's another ~20-feet of cheese selections

All the shredded cheeses
And up-close

It took me four pics to capture another 20-30-foot section of refrigerated, solid form cows' milk

Don't forget the creamed cheeses (and some bagels)

You can find me on Instagram ('mkator') or Facebook where I'll be posting a weekly pic of a new cheese variety from this store's cheese cases. Watch for some clever hashtags too, like #cheesedtomeetyou, #quesoloco, #fromagefix, #grateshots, and "#curdesyofWI.

* Fromagination is the name of a very nice cheese monger in downtown Madison, FYI. I didn't come up with the word myself.


Madison Night Ride

Dark comes early now, but that shouldn't stop you from exploring. Everything looks different in the dark.


Dane County Farmers' Market

There's not much more "hometown" than a local farmers' market, and if I have my info right, the Dane County Farmers' Market is one of the largest and longest running in the US. Simply put, it's awesome. They ring the Wisconsin capitol building virtually every Saturday from March through October (and then it sets something up indoors for the winter). People quite literally do their weekly shopping at the farmers' market. If you plan carefully, you can not only shop locally for much of what you eat, but buy organic, and avoid spending money at chain stores... not to mention the health benefits.

But enough about all those social & physical benefits. What's the vibe there?! I think the best way to show you, no surprise here, is with pictures...

Got syrup?

Need honey? Note: it helps to draw the crowd in with a "zany" outfit - Genius!

Need a hunk o' Hen?

This ginormo Hen of the Woods 'shrom was sitting in a cooler in the back of the guy's stall. It must have been as big as my chest (which admittedly is rather average). I got the feeling he sells mushrooms like other people sell illegal substances. Then again, maybe he was just showing it off or holding it for a commercial customer.

Gourdgeous!!! I don't know why or what I would do with a pile of gourds, but this guy, actually "The Gourd Guy, has seemed to figure it out.

I recommend grabbing a meat-stick snack to nibble as you walk along... and try their dips too...

All delicious.

Giant Mushroom, meet Giant Kohlrabi. Note: not for sale. Ha!

Dang, some gorgeous peppers. This guy offered me a free "Carolina Reaper" pepper to take home. It's the new "darling" of the hot pepper world. It contains 1.5 million Scoville units, where a jalapeno contains about 10,000 max. Uhhh, no thanks, pal, I'll pass.

It was also a learning experience to be at the market, who knew you could see live bes, including the queen.

I'm going back as soon as time and my Saturday morning laziness allow.


Quote of the Day

I will do today what others won't, 
so tomorrow I can do what others can't.
- Jerry Rice


Old Sugar Distillery, Madison, WI

About a month in on the new town, almost the end of summer-ish - time for a stiff cocktail in the afternoon. 

I headed out by bike to Old Sugar Distillery just west of the Capitol. It's a pretty cool spot - kind of classic brewery/distillery set-up with tables outside in summer and more tables inside. Then you add in some shiny distilling stills, a reclaimed wood bar, extra picnic tables, aging barrels, and voila! Distillery. 

They seem to take their spirits seriously, 
as do I! Well, maybe not so much me.

They have an extensive, well-laid out menu of their cocktails, along with a description of each spirit they distill. 

They had some great looking cocktails and stronger drinks too. I settled on a Gringo. It promised horchata, honey liqueur, spices and a kicker of a Snickers ice cream bar - yes, please!

I'd show a picture of mine, but not only did I neglect to snap one, it would pretty much just look like a glass of milk with ice. Not too exciting. It was pretty fun to see most of the cocktails as they came out with each patron. There is plenty to try on subsequent visits. 

What also impressed me was the full run of items on the menu. Both in terms of drinks, two pages worth, and their available bottles to take home (two sizes), merchandise, and even gift ideas. 

For those eagle-eye or more curious readers, you may also notice their distillery name and one of their liqueurs harkens back to another Madison landmark, know as the Old Sugar Factory in the early 1900's, or more recently as the Garver Feed Mill. This building, as it happens, was on my bike route to the distillery and seems to be up for a rehab project that will turn its large space into a community food space for bakers, brewers and the like. It is in rough shape right now, someone has a big project ahead of themselves. 

At its inception, it produced beet sugar from farmers in a 100 mile radius. Most recently, it was a feed mill producing food for livestock animals. Fun. 

Not only do I look forward to more strong drinks at Old Sugar Distillery as the summer turns to fall, but I also look forward to seeing what happens at the namesake factory. 



Re-transplanted, again.

For those that read this blog and might not know already, I've been transplanted again. This time it's to Madison, WI. From now on, I think it'll be fair to presume many of my posts will be about this new-to-me city. 

Here are a few highlights already...

Now I'm sure it won't all be sunshine and baked goods, but one can hope. 


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